Offensive versatility is fueling growth at camp

Everyone knew when Gary Kubiak came to town that things would be different. The Denver Broncos pass-happy offense of recent years would have to change. How much was still uncertain. After offseason workouts, and now two weeks of training camp, the offense is looking dangerous.

While the shotgun formation can still be seen out at UCHealth Training Center, it is only one of numerous formations being drilled into the offensive players’ minds and bodies. The balanced attack will leave Denver’s opponents guessing more than ever pre-snap and once the ball is in play several fakes and boots may take place before the true nature of the play is revealed.

“You saw, we did everything in the book from no huddle to you name it, we did it,” Kubiak said Tuesday. “We are making sure (Peyton Manning)’s getting his work. Even when we’re in special teams period, he doesn’t take that period off. He’s throwing with (Demaryius Thomas), he’s throwing with Emmanuel or he’s doing something. I really like what I see.”

Manning is leading the offense as he always has, but he is on the move constantly. The moving pocket is something that is a staple in Kubiak offense and something they are trying to get down before the season gets underway. The huddle has also returned to the Broncos, something that has been rarely seen in recent seasons.

“I know he can run the no-huddle. He does an exceptional job with that. We’d also like to be able to huddle and play fast, too. You can do that, also. There are teams that play on the ball that sit there and let the clock go down to two or three (seconds). There are teams that huddle and snap it with 20,” Kubiak emphasized. “We teach it all and we’re going to continue to do that.”

The multiple formations, run plays and play action passes will be a regular occurrence this season and it is something that the team hopes will keep opponents off balanced regularly.

“You know, (Manning) does a great job of getting everybody on the same page. I think being able to change the pace like you’re a pitcher throwing an off-speed pitch, a fastball two-seam or four-seam. Whatever you can do to get the advantage, and I think that we’ll do that on a game-to-game basis,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said confidently.

To keep opponents honest the Broncos will run the ball early and often this season. Ronnie Hillman is one of three backs that are seeing a lot of playing time from camp and each has expressed his excitement for the opportunities in this offense.

“You can definitely tell this (offense) is running back friendly. It is night and day offensively. The holes look different, the schemes are different. It is definitely a good change and it is paying off right now,” Hillman said Tuesday. “It is coming along very well. We are starting to make plays and the team is overall gaining confidence with the playbook.”

Kubiak’s offense may suit Hillman best, considering his speed. Kubiak called him a “home run threat” recently and the zone-blocking run game provides those types of opportunities.

“It lets me decide where to run. We have a lot more options on gap schemes and man schemes and it just gives you freedom to run. You just pick and choose and hit it,” Hillman said.

Manning has been giving veteran defensive Broncos players fits for several seasons in practice but Wade Phillips has recently had an up-close view of just how tough it is. Not only is the offense benefiting from the new, balanced scheme but the defense is going up against some great talent day-in and day-out.

“I tell you what, it helps your defense. In Houston when I first went there, Gary (Kubiak) has a running game and a passing game that are really tough. I think that was part of our success defensively being able to work against our own guys. If you work against maybe the greatest quarterback of all time every day, that’s going to help you, even though he still completes a lot of passes on you. It makes you work harder, especially in the red zone. I mean, he’s thrown so many touchdown passes and seen so many defenses. If we can play pretty good against him, we get better.”

When Manning decided to return to the Broncos this offseason, the NFL was buzzing with questions as to whether or not he could play in a Kubiak system. John Elway insisted it was not a problem. And while they have yet to snap a ball in a game, the practices at camp suggest that this may be the ideal brain trust. NFL defenses will have a tough time game planning for the new-look Broncos and it won’t get any easier for them when No. 18 gets back to work on Sundays.

OTHER NOTES:

Day 10 of training camp was held in a slight overcast and closed to the fans due to Monday’s damaging rain storm. The team practiced in helmets and shoulder pads. Derek Wolfe, Kayvon Webster, Chris Harris Jr., Larentee McCray and Marvin Austin Jr. watched the entire practice from the sidelines due to injury. Kubiak pulled Emmanuel Sanders from practice 30-minutes in because “he didn’t look like himself.” He is being hampered by a hamstring injury. The players practiced pretty much exclusively from their standing on the depth chart that was released yesterday on the team’s site.

The offense continued to show a myriad of formations through two-minute, red zone and goal line drills. Peyton Manning’s throws were precise and measured throughout practice. He hit Andre Caldwell down the right sideline for what would have been a 60-plus yard touchdown as Aqib Talib trailed in coverage. Montee Ball had an impressive catch up the hash marks mid-practice and continues to work in with the first-team offense. Bennie Fowler hauled in the catch of the day. Zac Dysert threw a high pass down the right hash marks and Fowler leaped and hauled in the ball by his finger tips.

Defensively Danny Trevathan returned to more contact Tuesday and felt great. When asked about his injury he replied, “What injury?” He was also vocally optimistic about the season ahead.

“I feel good. We are just being smart with it. I sat down a couple times last year. This year I just want to get it right, make sure it is all the way right. Got out there today and got some contact and it held up pretty well. Matter of fact, it was pretty dang on good. I’m ready to get back out there.”

Backup inside linebacker, Todd Davis, continued to show improvement and always seems to bring a physical presence inside. Antonio Smith’s workload has increased steadily and it appears that he is caught up on his conditioning and is ready to assume is starting role as a second-string defensive end. Bradley Roby was impressive, playing with the first-team due to Harris Jr.’s absence.

Special teams practiced punt return and field goals Tuesday with mixed results. Connor Barth and Brandon McManus are still is a stiff competition for the kicking job and all signs point to one of them being released when the team cuts down to a 53-man roster. Tuesday, both players missed multiple attempts, with a slight edge in accuracy going to Barth. Omar Bolden, as shown on the depth chart, took first-team reps as the punt returner.


Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick.

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